Mental health crisis: Assisted death provided, mental health treatment not provided in Northern Territory in Canada

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Editor’s note.  According to Prof. Kenneth John Rea, “Created in 1999 out of the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut encompasses the traditional lands of the Inuit, the indigenous peoples of Arctic Canada (known as Eskimo in the United States).”

Under the headline, “Change to assisted dying law overlooks Nunavut’s mental health crisis, say advocates,” Beth Brown reported for CBC News that the care of people with mental health concerns in Nunavut was not considered during the Bill C-7 debate. Bill C-7 is the recently passed bill that expands Canada’s euthanasia law to include people with mental illness. 

Brown is reporting on a meeting organized by the Embrace Life Council in Nunavut to discuss Bill C-7.

“More research is required to determine the relationship between mental health and the current public health emergency of suicide in Nunavut,” the Embrace Life Council said in a letter to Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson. The letter also notes that mental illness has a “significant impact on productivity, morbidity and mortality in Nunavut.”

Brown interviewed Kylie Aglukark, the Embrace Life Council President, who is concerned that people in Nunavut are currently being sent away to receive treatment. 

We’re required already to leave the territory to access basic services,” Aglukark said.

This is especially true for people who have a severe and long-term mental illness that could lead to the level of suffering that would make a person eligible for assisted dying. 

“We need more [mental health] services. We need to not have our residents being shipped to southern Canada for basic services that should be offered in Nunavut.”
 

Senator Dennis Patterson, who represents Nunavut told Brown that:

…the federal government has failed to bring mental health treatment to Nunavut, and there aren’t enough mental health services in the territory for people to get better.

“There are organizations working against suicide and for wellness who are concerned that making it easier to choose to die with a mental illness in Nunavut without mental health supports, than to go on living and become well, is not a fair choice.”

Brown reported that “medically assisted dying can be made available in the territory for any patient who is eligible, Nunavut’s Health department said in an email.”

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.